A conversation I had this morning with a fellow member of the McKinney Sunrise Rotary Club brings to mind something I have believed for the past 30 years.
I believe it is vital for any Vietnam War veteran who is able to return to that country to see what I discovered when I was able to return there in 1989, two decades after I arrived there in service to my country.
I learned that the war had ended. It was over. The shooting had stopped. The country that had survived all that explosive bludgeoning has become a beautiful land full of generous people.
My Rotary friend had recalled a question I had asked a fellow who delivered a program at a recent meeting. I asked him if he had been back. He has not returned and the gentleman seemed a bit perplexed by the question.
I told my friend this morning about my emotional discovery when I returned there 30 years ago. I had gone to Southeast Asia with other editorial writers and editors on a factfinding mission. At the end of the official portion of the trip, I flew from Saigon to Da Nang with two fellow journalists — who also are Vietnam vets — to see the place where I served for a time so many years earlier.
Our guide, Mai, accompanied us to Da Nang. We took a cab from our downtown hotel to Marble Mountain, where I served for a time as an aircraft mechanic with the Army’s 245th Mohawk Aviation Company.
We were walking along the sandy soil. Mai told me how the Vietnamese had absorbed all that we had built there and repurposed it for their use. Pierced-steel planking had become fence material; they used lumber to build housing.
Then it hit me like a runaway freight train. The war was over! That’s when I broke down and sobbed like a child for about three or four minutes. My friends backed away, as did Mai. I cried all by myself.
Then it was over. I wiped my face dry. Took a deep breath. I extended my arms to my two friends and to Mai. I was cleansed. I had shed the emotional baggage I never realized I was lugging around.
I did not traipse through the bush. I did not fire my weapon in anger at the enemy. I performed rear-echelon duty. However, returning to that place in November 1989 reminded me that the war was raging when I arrive and it was raging when I left.
I saw that place in an entirely new context.
That is why I tell my fellow Vietnam War veterans that they, too, need to see the country is at it is today, not as it was when they left.
They, too, might be cleansed.